Business venture

How COVID and Indigenous roots inspired a new business

To note: The following article was originally written in December 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The familiar melodic beeps of facetime ring out for a few moments before the screen is joined by a masked, covered face. She wears a vibrant necklace of reds, oranges and yellows to reveal a trio of pearl sunflowers. Her eyes narrow into a smile and she offers a small wave.

The audio crackles as she situates herself. She excuses herself for a moment and joins the frame with an attentive and friendly look.

After graduating from California State University, Northridge in 2019, 25-year-old Cassandra Suarez started Nanaka Sapichu Crafts to deal with the pandemic and changing job market.

With a degree in computer science and limited knowledge, getting into jewelry making was something she never saw herself pursuing.

“I’ve never been a very artistic person. But for some reason, I was very good at beadwork. I am in love with my culture. That’s when I decided to share a piece of it with the world,” Suarez said.

For Suarez, his Mexican heritage has been the driving force behind his business. She has indigenous roots from her mother’s side of the family which also serves as an inspiration. She highlights some elements decorating her studio. A multicolored sarape (Mexican blanket) hangs on the wall and a few other trinkets from his travels in Mexico.

A quick glance at her Etsy page, and you’re faced with a huge variety of brightly colored beadwork. From necklaces and bracelets to earrings and keychains, and the occasional personalized piece.

The inspiration for her work comes from classic indigenous jewelry found primarily in Mexico and rarely found in the United States. The name of her shop is based on an indigenous word that she fondly remembers from childhood.

Cassandra Suarez, 25, displays one of her handmade necklaces on Dec. 10, 2021, at her studio in Los Angeles, California. It is one of her favorite pieces and one of the most difficult she has done so far. (Brittany Parris | The Union)

“The only word I remember my grandmother calling me was Nanaka Sapichu, which means girl. It’s not super creative but something special for me,” Suarez said.

For the past two years, growing your customer base and managing products on your Etsy account has become routine.

A typical day starts at 8 a.m. Suarez wakes up and checks to see if she has any new orders. Answer any questions potential buyers may have, then start working on parts that should be shipping soon. She usually tries to finish by 4 p.m., but each piece varies.

“It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days,” Suarez said. “With custom orders, they could take up to a week. But that’s mostly due to back and forth between the client and me,” Suarez said.

From there she heads to the post office and then works on other pieces until bedtime.

With every business, comes its list of problems. Whether it’s shipping issues or equipment shortages, Suarez has learned to deal with them on the fly.

“I have sometimes had to deal with people who wanted me to lower the prices. Unfortunately, some people have been very understanding about that,” Suarez said.

Although she started this business venture during the pandemic and it had negative effects, she credits him for helping her come up with the idea.

“COVID is the reason I decided to start my business. I think that’s why it’s been so successful since people couldn’t shop and depended on shopping online,” added Suárez.

Speaking of online, starting to follow has become a learning experience as she navigates the world of social media and her contribution to her business.

“I use Instagram and TikTok. Instagram has been the most helpful so far since I can pay for advertising,” Suarez said. “He will share any of my posts with different users across the country or the world if I wanted to”.

With 623 sales and a flurry of positive reviews, Suarez plans to do so for as long as she can and hopes to open a physical store in the near future.

“I hope to sell at a flea market in the future. Depending on how the COVID situation develops, I would like to completely switch from online markets to flea markets,” Suarez said.